This year I’m not celebrating a particularly significant birthday, but any milestone is worth marking at one of Auckland’s most lauded and iconic eateries.
Clooney’s been up and running for almost three years now, and it enjoys a status as one of Auckland’s A-list eateries. There’s been oodles of positive press about the restaurant’s dramatic, designer décor, but we’re keen to discover if recent plaudits about the food are equally deserved.
Certainly the décor is daring, with an expansive windowless room filled with retro 1970s booths and divided up with shimmering black see-through curtains. It feels slightly imposing as we arrive, but within half and hour the room is full, and a buzzy, sophisticated informality has emerged.
The service is also wonderfully relaxed as we’re talked through the concise menu. Chef Des Harris, formerly of Logan Brown in Wellington, is a master of surprising flavour and texture combinations that manage to be exciting and innovative without crossing the line into fiddly and overthought.
I begin with Crispy Pork Belly with scampi tails and oyster mushrooms and black truffle butter ($25). The pork is delicate and tender, allowing the subtle flavour of the scampi to stand out. The highlights of Carol’s Japanese-influenced Confit of King Prawn and Salmon ($25) are the citrusy accents of ponzu gel and an apple and lemon verbena sorbet.
Cloudy Bay Riesling and Villa Maria’s Keltern Single Vineyard Chardonnay provide the perfect segue to our mains. Surprisingly I opt for a pork double header – possibly in defiance of swine flu – and have the Freedom’s Farm pork ($39) with creamed celeriac, confit chestnuts, and boudin blanc (tiny Cajun-style sausages). The dish is simultaneously rustic and sophisticated. My relative lack of sophistication is reinforced with a bowl of crisp shoestring fries with truffle oil. Very, very good.
Carol’s main is where the alchemy of the kitchen is given full rein. Venison with pinot noir macerated cherries ($40) is served with black pudding sausage, and a brave mix of cocoa soil and licorice. If that sounds challenging and odd, the meal is anything but, with the surprising texture and flavour of the licorice and cocoa combining beautifully with the farm-raised venison.
Normally I’m not a big fan of dessert, but the first two courses have been so exemplary, and hey, it is my birthday after all. My crème brûlée with a prune and almond beignet ($18) is my personal highlight of the night. Two tiny shot glasses of espresso granita and Pedro Ximenez sherry provide delicious distraction. Carol’s baked chocolate fondant with cardamom ice cream ($16) is an equally fine punctuation mark to the meal.
When Clooney first opened, there were a few mutterings of style over substance. Nearly three years on, nothing could be further from the truth, after a meal that’s been surprising, revelatory, and definitely worthy of a special occasion.
Maybe I should also book in for my next really significant birthday in a few years.
33 Sale Street,
(09) 358 1702
Review byBrett Atkinson
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